June 25th 1983, is indelibly etched in the hearts, minds and souls of my generation. I am honoured and privileged to participate in commemorating that special day and wondrous achievement that forever changed the trajectory of Indian cricket.
As I prepared to embark on my next innings as a graduate student in the United States, the ’83 World Cup dawned upon us without much fanfare. I lived in South Delhi with my family and like for many of my generation, there were precious few distractions. We played, read about, listened to and watched Cricket with a fervid intensity. The cricketing triumphs that heralded the dawn of the ‘70’s had started to fade. Beyond cricket, Vijay Amritraj making the last 8 at Wimbledon twice, Indian hockey giving us the odd moment to cheer, that was as good as it got. We were a nation in transition, and we didn’t have much to show in the world of sport.
We had recently, improbably defeated the mighty West Indies in Guyana in an ODI, despite losing the series, but nobody thought much of it as we began our World Cup campaign. Soon after, we did it again at Old Trafford against the Windies, in the first game of the World Cup. Some early themes emerged. The late Yashpal Sharma, the improbable hero in that game set the tone for many contributors, 5 seamers in the squad all of differing mien, batting that ran deep, Ravi Shastri batted at 10 in that game. As June rolled on, my hopes began to stir, not of a win, but of perhaps competing strongly. Remember this was still an Indian cricket team that looked to draw test matches overseas from day one.
Then came the day when Tunbridge Wells came to be more familiar to us than Tanjore. 17 for 5 against Zimbabwe? Here we go again, I thought, this is familiar ground, 42 all out, losing to Lanka in 79…we know what this feels like. And then, on the BBC world service with the vagaries of short wave radio (the match famously not televised) the tones dropped a decibel or two. That innings of Kapil had it all: a watchful start on a green seamer, building of late order partnerships, and finally an unleashing like none other. To paraphrase Martin Luther King – now, “we all had a dream”. We brushed aside a divided aging Australia in the second league match at Chelmsford, taking our place in the semis. This was a strong English side, featuring Gatting, Gower, Botham, Lamb, Fowler, Willis, et al. My memories include Kirti Azad knocking Botham over, Gower caught by a diving Kiri off an ambling Amarnath, Yashpal smashing Willis for six over square leg, a thumping comprehensive win, and India moving on to Lord’s for the final.
That summer day dawned like no other. Delhi summers can be brutal, and this year, the monsoon hadn’t swept in yet. Our flat was cooled after a fashion by a “desert cooler” which made a real clatter all night. I didn’t sleep a wink. Roberts, Garner, Marshall, and Holding were a fearsome prospect for a young mind in the wee reaches of the night before. The game began in the afternoon on my family’s prize possession, a 21 inch colour TV which showed us a pitch that was clearly a green top. Lose the toss and the little master is in, and out! I still remember that hollow feeling as Roberts nicked him off. For a while Srikanth and Jimmy struggled. The ball was jagging, runs specially off Garner looked impossible to come by. Then, the trademark Jimmy hook, a flashing Srikanth square drive, and we were breathing again. Holding cartwheels Jimmy’s off stump, Marshall skids one on, soft dismissals as we looked to cash in on Gomes and suddenly 90 for 2 is 130 for 7. The next 53 runs weren’t celebrated enough but to me exemplified India’s campaign. A series of brave 17, 14, and 11 runs by Madan Lal, Kiri and Sandhu allowed us to creep up to 183.
David Frith of Wisden said, “Show me a person who gave Kapil Dev’s team any chance of winning the World Cup In 1983 and I will show you a liar and an opportunist.”
Me and my friends went for a walk to the neighbourhood market mid-innings. The sun was setting on Delhi that June evening, and almost certainly on India, according to us. We reminisced about Kapil’s knock against Zim again, recalling our great victory against England one more time. We already felt sated, replete with happiness for a team that had achieved significantly more than we had expected of them. Not one of us gave India a chance. Facing Greenidge, Haynes, Viv, super cat, we assumed we were about to be steam-rollered.
We went back home turned the TV back on with an air of resignation. I can still remember the awkward run, the gentle swing, the shouldering of arms and then that ungainly half Bhangra of Sandhu in his red patka, as he castled Greenidge in his maroon cap. Haynes struggled to time it, the ball was swinging but Viv was being Viv. I remembered his match winning 100 in the ‘79 World Cup. He was imperious and dismissive. Drives, cuts and pulls flowed, our medium pacers looked short of ideas, and 183 disdainfully few. And then, Madan Lal pitches it short on off stump, Viv mistimes his pull shot. Kapil with the long legged lithe grace of a coursing big cat loops back, the ball is dropping over his left shoulder, his eyes are focused but it’s the hardest catch to take in cricket, running back with the hopes of a billion people and perhaps the outcome of the match in balance, he holds on to it and for the first time ever It feels like we can win this. There were little partnerships, Doordarshan inexplicably stopped the coverage for a bit, but we were headed for our tryst with destiny. Fittingly, our man of the match Jimmy dobs up to the wicket, Holding tries to heave, and as Dickie Bird pointed to the sky, a nation roared.
I left India to study abroad a few months later and daresay had a little strut when I landed in London as my first stop in my westward journey. As I visited an empty and chilly Lord’s, all I could see in my minds-eye was Srikanth’s flashing blade, Jimmy Amarnath’s courageous pulls and hooks, and most of all that leonine stride and unshakeable confidence of a 24 year old from Chandigarh who had given a very old but still very new nation a real sense of self-belief.